The residents of Kaser Kalan, a small village in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district didn't expect to have a new landmark in their village. But the "mini" Taj Mahal has become just that. Visible from the main highway, this "monument" has made the tiny lane popular with inquisitive visitors, including a car from the sub-divisional magistrate's office.
But 80-year-old Faizul Hasan Qadri, this "mini" Taj Mahal's creator, says that people are mistaken. "I never intended it to look like the Taj. Shah Jahan's monument is eight-cornered with rooms inside. Mine is a simple four-corner structure with my wife's grave in it," says Qadri. Despite his claims, the resemblance to one of the Seven Wonders of the World is striking. A bare concrete structure stands in the middle of a green field, with four pillars around it, just like the famous monument in Agra.
When I reach Kaser Kalan to visit Qadri, he seems to be out on a stroll. Ambaar Khan, the owner of a provision store, sends his workers to look for "Nawab sahib". A popular and well-loved resident, Qadri is greeted by shopkeepers from across the street as he makes his way with the help of a walking stick to meet me.
"Are you here from Lucknow?" he asks. Akhilesh Yadav, the state's chief minister, recently sought a meeting with Qadri after the media reported that he had run out of funds to complete the structure, but the meeting was rescheduled. "I don't think I will take his money, though. I have done all the hard work and just by giving a little money, they'll claim it as theirs," he says.
Unlike the Mughal emperor's monument that is a popular tourist destination, Qadri wants his Taj to remain just a shrine of his love for his wife. "I promised my wife that I will build a mausoleum for her and that's all there is to it," he says with a polite, clear diction peppered with English words.
Qadri married Tajammuli Begum, his maternal uncle's daughter, in 1953 and remained married to her for over 58 years before she died of cancer in 2011. Since the couple had no children, Begum insisted that Qadri build a mausoleum for both their resting places.
"Such forward planning comes with knowing that you have only a few years to live. I have already prepared a will and enlisted members of my family who will inherit all this land," he says, waving towards the fields.
Much like Shah Jahan's prison cell from where he could see the Taj Mahal, Qadri seems to have built the monument in a way that he can see it through his room's window.
Pictures of his wife and the Maqbara Yadgare Mohabbat Tajammuli Begum, the official name for his "mini" Taj, are kept neatly on a shelf. "Memories are all that remain," he says with a smile.
Qadri has spent close to Rs 11 lakh and says that he still needs Rs 6-7 lakh to complete the project. He earns a pension of Rs 10,500 after he retired as a senior post office clerk, besides the agricultural income from his vast land. A man well-versed with the ways of the world, Qadri speaks about the dollar rate, investments and cultivating high-yield fruit crops.
While his views on life and death have a touch of spirituality, he seems to be equally rooted in everyday reality. "I could use plaster on the exterior, but I don't want to saddle the family with its upkeep."